Owner, Paulman Farms
Tell us a bit about yourself and your farm.
I was born and raised on our Nebraska farm, and then my dad thought it was a good idea for me to work for someone else. I went to college and started a career in ag business. I ran a multi-state repair business for fuel-injection engines from 1977 to 1985. In 1985, my dad called me in the middle of the farm crisis and asked me to come back from Omaha to Sutherland to farm. My wife and I came with back with a 2- and a 4-year old. Then my dad passed away six months later of a heart attack. We struggled and ended up giving our farm back to Farm Credit. My mom lent me some money and I started doing some custom farming. By December 2012 we bought back our original farm. Our son is returning for his 4th season this year. Every year, we continue to look to the future of our farm as an opportunity to get better.
How do you define success for your farm?
Our farm is very diversified - intentionally. We have always managed to grow what someone wants. We’ve grown as many as 13 or 14 crops in our history, and we consistently grow 4 to 5 different crops every year. Some of those customers are field-to-table, field-to-ethanol, field-to-livestock. Developing that network with vendors and purchasers/processors, this is our biggest success story. We’ve spent a lot of time perfecting our own processes so that we can grow and nurture these relationships.
The people who we employ on the farm today have a higher level of education, and higher expectations, than employees did 30 years ago. They want a 5-day work week and they’re looking for us to invest in the technologies and opportunities that will enable them to be part of their family and their community as well. We want to provide that. I want to have the time to serve on a local board or give back somehow, even if I’m running a large business and it gets hard.
I have employees who have been with me since the beginning. I’ve gone through their birthdays and their retirements. We’ve utilized the H2A temporary worker program, and my kids have been able to grow up with all of these diverse perspectives. My legacy is to continue to give back, in a humble and honest way. And sit on the back porch with my wife and just relax and still be a part of all it.
How do you keep up with the latest trends or news impacting your business?
I’m continually reaching out to my network of people. I’m part of several top producer networks. It’s about being part of many conversations and listening to others’ ideas to learn about what’s working somewhere else. Most the investments we have to make as farmers are significant - you want to have some idea of how they’ll turn out. I also chose to take some time away from the farm and run for office - that really raised my awareness of issues and gave me the opportunity to meet people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. I lost by 300 votes. Oh well.
How do you identify the areas in which you need to improve?
There’s still no substitute for boots on the ground. You know your fields. You’ve owned or operated them for years or even decades. But I still look for some type of validation and to reduce lags. We’re moving closer and closer to real-time - not just when it comes to as-applied data files but also to know what’s transpiring out there, both on the agronomy and financial side. I’m able to capture applications and say okay, those $2/acre expenses are now part of my production costs and marketing plan. I want to get better at that. Granular is a big piece of that puzzle.
Improving the team is tough sometimes. They tend to see learning something new as another duty or responsibility. A lot of time it is more about coaching and continuing to put it in front of them in small chunks.
What's the biggest challenge that you're facing now (outside of commodity prices) and how do you think you'll solve it?
Aside from the usual production and marketing issues, I work and get up every morning thinking about what I have to do and how I’m going to do it better 2-3 years from now. That’s very daunting. More short-term, our biggest challenge is having a real-time understanding of our risk. I love risk - I ’m pushing it to the limit every day. I leverage equipment, assets, and I market 1-2 years out. But I manage it. I want to get even better, so we’re now constantly adding to our toolkit.